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Metallica - Metallica [Aka: The Black Album] CD (album) cover




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3.26 | 534 ratings

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4 stars You can call it "selling out" if you want; I call it "artistic progression." The Ride the Lightning formula hadn't yet come close to failing, yes, but only the most hardened metalhead (in my opinion) would deny that ... Justice showed that the band's mastery of the formula was waning. It was high time for an adjustment to the band's approach; not a radical change, but rather an effective redirection of the band's (still in prime condition) raw tools. Let's face it, it is hardly the case that the band's strengths were only conducive to quality prog thrash; this was a band with masterful guitar interplay and a knack for writing solid riffs and solid vocal melodies, and these are ideal ingredients for the kind of hard pop metal that the band pursued on this album.

Now granted, pop metal is a really easy genre to do badly (then again, thrash is an easy genre to do badly too). The mid-to-late 80's is replete, after all, with bands trainwrecking with the pop metal genre, from Deep Purple to a legion of hair metal bands that made Metallica's brand of metal seem just that much more impressive during the same era. But with Metallica, the band avoids the crucial trap that basically all of those bands fell into; not making the music hard enough to actively drive away pop fans and not making the music poppy enough to actively drive away metal fans. To the contrary, the band sticks to its fundamental guns through most of the album, making the music found here about a hundred times heavier and more legitimately intense than most 1991 bands could, yet the hooks are more explicitly defined than the band had made them previously, which helps explain the huge popularity of this album.

Of the first eight songs, five of them were pretty big hits, and all of the first eight range between good and great. A couple of them, "Unforgiven" and "Nothing Else Matters," are actually full- fledged ballads, but it's not as if the band had completely avoided that track in its previous work ("Fade to Black" and "One" had elements of dark balladry to them, after all). The band never picks up and takes them into the slashing overdrive that would happen on the older albums, but Hammett gets in some nice (albeit slightly generic, which is actually a problem throughout much of the album) solos where the situation merits, the melodies are fine, and James' singing is at least decent (though he's arguably trying a little too hard to sound mildly sensitive on them, which sows the seeds of the bitter fruits that would be reaped half a decade later).

As for the other songs in this group, all of them, with the mild exception of the slightly weaker "Holier Than Thou," absolutely rip; they're not fast (though the excellent "Through the Never" gives a brief flash of the band's thrash selves), but they're intense, and the riffs and hooks are very very strong. "Enter Sandman" is the best known classic, and it has every right to be, but "Sad but True" is a stomping (and catchy!) riot, and "Wherever My Roam" is an effective uptempo riff-fest that makes the darkest use of an Indian guitar sound in majorly popular rock music since (probably) "Paint it Black" 25 years previous. Throw in a slightly goofy (but better for it) rocker in "Don't Tread on Me," and the end result is an extremely well-produced (come on all you naysayers, the guitars sound great on this album, and there's a reasonable bass presence again) collection of hard-rock and pop that no metalhead (unless they define metal solely as thrash) should be ashamed to have.

Oh, wait, this album doesn't end after eight tracks and forty minutes of solid rock music. The last four tracks are, in my opinion, the weakest stretch by far that the band had come up with to this point, meaning that this album ends up with a full twenty minutes of relative filler. "Of Wolf and Man" is probably my favorite of these, but that's only because it would improve a good amount in a live setting; it seems awfully awkward to me here. And the last three, gah; "My Friend of Misery" is actually the longest track on here, and the fact that it doesn't interest me much (except for a cool main bassline that I enjoy hearing outside the context of the song) can't help but lead the way in a sag of the rating from where it would otherwise be. The other two aren't even worth a namecheck, for what it's worth.

Still, this (alarmingly) weak ending isn't enough to completely undermine the quality of the great start. It's not a "hard rock milestone" like some reviews at the time raved about it, but it's still a fine inclusion to the band's catalogue. Too bad things didn't improve from here.

tarkus1980 | 4/5 |


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